Tag: Raen

10.33 – Ulfr

Lord Ulfr relaxed back in his seat as though the response bored him. “Your place is defending the Hold, Captain Kaldr. Or have you already forgotten how tenuous your position here is?”

“Not at all, my lord.” Kaldr tasted bile as he realized he could feel nothing but loathing for his Thane. He dares call himself a wolf? Kaldr cleared his throat, trying to ensure his voice was steady. “My Lord, I fear the day is lost. Our men are losing their will to fight.”

“Then remind them what my displeasure feels like!”

“My lord, the lash can only take you so far. Sooner or later, the lashed man will take hold of the whip and turn it against his master. Already word has reached me that your warriors are beginning to question whether or not the Hold is worth defending.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying that, whether or not you are Lord Raen’s true-born son, whether or not he acknowledged you as heir, you have not been behaving as a Thane should. Tell me, Lord, what your father said when named you heir?”

“My father is an old, senile fool. What does it matter?”

“It matters, Lord, because I suddenly cannot remember the event. Granted I was young and inexperienced at the time, but such an event would have echoed throughout the Clan. Especially since the rebel leader had been well-liked, as I recall. I, who have counted myself among your most loyal servants, cannot think of a single reason we would have acclaimed you as Thane. —Wait, that’s not quite true. I can think of one. The Lady Witch.”

Lord Ulfr actually rolled his eyes. Kaldr had to be mistaken, but for a moment it seemed as though there was amusement glinting over that petulant face. Amusement, where he had expected anger at the aspersion cast against the witch. “Sixteen years is a long time, Kaldr. Are you certain your sudden anger is not twisting your memory?”

“Quite the opposite, I assure you. In the time since you have taken power and driven off the rebels who now assault our shores, you have driven Breidelstein – the prosperous city your father made – into penury. You have rewarded the boot-lickers and the stupid while driving the competent and the honorable to seek their fortunes elsewhere. You have stripped your father’s hall of all its comfort and its warmth – and for the life of me, I cannot fathom why.”

Lord Ulfr had sat up straight while Kaldr was talking, and now sat smirking down at his subject, a wicked light gleaming in his eye. “You call yourself loyal and yet you question me now, of all times? Fine. I will answer your questions, Kaldr. I am the Thane, and all of you, my Captains, exist to obey me.”

“You have always thought of my mother as a chain about my neck, Kaldr, but you’re wrong. Mother is my sword and my shield, and the reason I sit here on this throne before you. It was Mother’s plan that made everyone on Breidelstein acknowledge me, the eldest son, as the true heir of Raen. It was her masterpiece: the tapestry that brought all of these islands under my thumb and bound everyone to my service. You say I should fear my own lash? Hardly. Not one person living here has the wherewithal to challenge me, because we have bound their fates in a tapestry. I am well aware that Mother has let no small amount of your blood. Think of it as medicine, to rid the land of Breidelstein of its imperfections. You should be proud: your own body has been used to perfect this country under my rule.”

Kaldr rocked back on his heels involuntarily. Did Ulfr know what he was confessing to?

“Sixteen years ago, Mother and I sailed to these islands, determined to make my father acknowledge me. We had been poor, before, but through her Weaving Mother had managed to save up enough to buy us passage here. While we sailed, she began work on her masterpiece. By the time we arrived, all that was left to do was one single, finishing touch. We walked openly into this very hall and stood before my father and declared ourselves. The man had the audacity to claim he had no son besides Stigander! So when we returned to our room, Mother finished the piece. Oh, there was some fighting at first, and then some more after the Vidofnir came back with my baby brother, all unawares. But Breidelstein is mine, and it always will be. Fate binds it to me.”

That’s madness. “Ulfr,” — no ‘Lord’ for him now, nor ever again — “…do you understand what you are confessing? This witchcraft, this madness, goes beyond mere treason! Even if you drive off Stigander, you’ll be pulled down by your own Captains and people — myself among them — once I share the truth.” Even weakened, he was more of a warrior than Ulfr – younger, stronger, faster. The Usurper could not stop him.

The madman on the throne laughed as though bored. “Kaldr, Kaldr, Kaldr. My ever-loyal Ice Wolf. We have danced this dance before, you and I, so very many times. When Falkenjorg shook free after a long raid and rebelled — do you not remember your first hunt? Of returning to confront me after your victory with the words pledged by a dying man? Or your doubts after I ordered the waste of Aldvik? Truly, you are so quick to doubt that I would have had you executed long before had Mother not insisted that your talents were of use to me …and were you not so amusing.”

“Why —”

“— Would I tell you? It’s almost tiresome how you always ask the same questions. I tell you because, even knowing, you cannot escape. What will happen is what has always happened.” Ulfr’s eyes blazed with merriment. “You will storm out in your righteous fury, swearing to rally the Captains and the people, to overthrow me for the good of Breidelstein. I surely cannot stop you from doing so, alone. Within ten paces, you will forget why you are angry. Within twenty, our words. Within thirty, all your anger, and you will return to ask and serve my will, as you always have. After all, it is your Fate to be a loyal captain in the service of Breidelstein’s Thane. So go, Ice-Wolf, go and know the hopelessness of your defiance, and that you serve at my pleasure.”

Kaldr stiffened, staring at the indolent figure on the throne. He could not remember, not truly, but he did not doubt the madman’s words. But here, now, at the Fall of Breidelstein, he could feel the bonds that held him unraveling. He clenched his jaw and raised his face to the Usurper, expression clear and proud. “No, Ulfr. I will not go. Let us end it, Thane.”

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10.32 – Unraveling

A wave of blinding light swept over the town below and through the war room. Kaldr staggered where he stood. So did everyone else in the war room, and for a long moment the sounds of fighting in the city below fell silent. What… was that?

Whatever it was, the direction of the battle below would be decided on the ground. One side was bound to recover first, and they would win the day. He walked over to the window and waited. While he waited, he massaged his temples as he looked out on the battle below. Whatever else the burst had done, it had given him a headache. But a mere headache won’t help the rebels.

Evidently it was more than just a headache for some. The shield walls – the very core of his bait and encirclement strategy, which had been whittling away at the rebel invaders – began to buckle. It was not long before the battle lines began to push once more toward the cliff road and Raenshold. Thjofgrir had arrived just minutes before the shockwave had passed over, and he confirmed the worst of what Kaldr had pieced together: not only had the townspeople decided to take up arms, some of the sailors and guards were questioning whether Lord Ulfr was worth defending. Thjofgrir said nothing of Kaldr’s own men, and Kaldr assumed nothing.

Did they have enough healthy men to blockade the cliff road? They might, if they placed themselves on top of one of the switchbacks… But morale was so low as to be almost nonexistent. If the rebels pushed too much farther, it was likely that their defense would crumble. There might even be turncoats on the ground, if there weren’t already.

If only this blasted headache wasn’t clouding his thoughts!

He would be fine, he was sure, if the witch hadn’t been bleeding him down in the dungeons. His confinement – he hadn’t bothered to ask how long it was – had left him weakened.

“Thjofgrir, take command of the switchbacks and hold them.”

His Mate nodded an acknowledgement and dashed off. Thjofgrir would buy them time, and Kaldr would find the men to hold even if he had to join them himself. They must, else they would allow the true-born son of Raen to be cast from his throne in favor of the usurper brother.

The blood beat in his temples like a drum.

Ulfr is not true-born, but bastard.

He shook his head: where had that come from? Whatever its source, he knew the thought for truth. Bastard or not, however, Ulfr had the right of the throne. He was the elder brother, and acknowledged by his father.

Was he? When did that happen, and how? …Why did we acclaim him as our Thane?

Kaldr felt as though someone were stabbing blades of light through his eyes and he staggered again, catching himself on the window ledge before he collapsed to the floor. He scoured his mind, searching for answers and finding only uncertainty and more questions.

One after another, he remembered the thousand insults that Ulfr had given. His own father, half-starved and thrown in the dungeon to rot. His Hall, stripped of warmth and life to pay for – what? His Captains, chosen not for any particular skill but for fawning sycophancy and absolute loyalty, sent hither and yon for – what? His people. The people of Breidelstein, taxed beyond all reason both in coin and in labor, for – what? And there, looming in the background of it all, the hunched, cackling figure of his Lady Mother, the witch. The Weaver-witch.

Kaldr pressed his palm into the cold stone of the window ledge and pushed himself to standing while all these thoughts ran through his head. For a while, he stood, staring blankly at the stones he was pressing under his palms. This has to end. He raised his head, his hawk’s gaze fixed on the horizon, and squared his shoulders. Then he turned and stalked wordlessly toward the door.

“Sir, where are you going?”

“Lord Ulfr’s Hall. I have questions.”

For the third time that day Kaldr crossed the courtyard between the tower gate and the Thane’s Hall. The sky was brilliantly blue, but thunderheads trailed in his wake. No guards tried to stop him as he reached the hall where Ulfr sat: they had all been called down to aid in the defense. If Thjofgrir could not hold the road, Ulfr would fall.

His head pounded again when he realized a new point of discord: he did not care, just now, if Ulfr fell.

He raised his arms and did not hear the clink of chains, nor miss the weight of iron about his wrists. With all his rage-born strength, he flung the doors wide. The heavy wood struck the stone walls dully. Kaldr marched forward, his fists clenched at his sides.

Ulfr now lounged in the Thane’s seat, the very image of an indolent, petulant youth in the body of an aging man. How long does he spend on those braids every day, wondered the rebellious part of Kaldr’s mind. It was the only part that seemed coherent right now.

“My Lord.”

Ulfr turned dull blue eyes on the Captain he had just this morning released from captivity. “Kaldr. We have won the day, then?”

“Quite the contrary, my lord. When I left the war room, the rebels had nearly reached the cliff road. I’ve ordered our forces to retrench to the switchbacks—”

“Then why are you here?”

“For answers, my Lord.”

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10.7 – Safe Harbor

Lundholm sat near the shore of a narrow, rocky fjord only slightly less treacherous than the waters surrounding the Althane’s grave. Stigander and the Vidofnir led the way, and even from his position in the rear Einarr could see his father’s crew sounding the depths at regular intervals.

The town itself was tiny, and home to not more than four or five households but supporting at least double that living in more remote portions of this remote island. Einarr scowled: this was hardly the place he would have chosen for a resupply, even under such circumstances as these. Could they afford to supply the sheer quantities of goods three ships would require?

Father, however, seemed confident, and their course had never wavered after they broke free of Kaldr’s trap in the bay.

The town, when it finally appeared from behind the rocky walls of the fjord and the tree cover, was little more than a collection of wooden houses, most whitewashed but some treated and cured nearly black. Smoke rose from chimneys, and here and there he could pick out a shop stall. There would be a butcher, and a smith more familiar with horseshoes and nails than weaponry, and perhaps a miller for grain although he wasn’t sure where they would grow it.

Well. He had lived in such a place before – or, rather, in one of the freeholds surrounding such a place. They would all have to sleep on the ship, but the local alewives would do a brisk business, as would the fletcher. With a creaking of wood and the calm splash of water against their hulls, the three ships beached themselves just outside the town.

Stigander vaulted from the deck of the Vidofnir, followed quickly by the other captains from their own ships.

Stigander cupped a hand to his mouth and called out. “Halloo!”

A voice cut out from within a stand of trees just away from the beach. “State your intentions.”

“Shelter and resupply. Does Lundholm still honor the name of Raen?”

After a long moment, a skinny young man emerged from the stand of trees. He held an arrow still nocked to his bow, although it pointed at the ground. “Been a long time since we’ve heard that name. You don’t look like one of the Wolf’s dogs.”

“I am Stigander, son of Raen and rightful heir to his Thanedom. So I ask again: does Lundholm still honor the old agreements?”

The young man’s eyes went wide as he stared at Stigander. “W-wait here. I will bring the Elder.”

Not many minutes later the youth – probably younger than Einarr – returned leading a wizened old man who leaned heavily on his stick as he walked. Einarr’s eyebrows rose: the man was at least as old as Afi, and probably older. When they reached the edge of the sand, the old man held up his hand and his escort stopped.

The Elder continued on, his pace slow but both steady and firm, until he stood directly before Stigander and stared at him – long enough and hard enough that Einarr and Kormund both began to feel ill at ease. At last, though, he nodded his head. “You are the Son of Raen. Is it time at last, then?”

Stigander smiled down at the Elder. “It is time, at last.”

A grin split the old man’s white beard. “The Usurper’s men have not troubled us in many years. Now we will remind them of our existence.”

A pair of watchers were left behind on the boats in case Kaldr sent a boat down the fjord after them. If the watchers on the spit were any good, however, Einarr didn’t think they would have much to worry about. The rest of the crew followed the Elder up into the village proper.

As Einarr had expected, two of the three houses sold ale, and one made mead, but none of them were of a size to accomodate even one crew, let alone three. Even knowing they would have to sleep on deck did little to dampen their spirits, however: the promise of shelter, if even for a night, served to bleed off a good bit of the tension.

“Has your fletcher taken an apprentice? I’m afraid we’re in dire need of arrows,” Kormund asked the Elder as they tromped through the town to their meeting-place.

The Elder chuckled. “I’m afraid we don’t have a dedicated fletcher here. Not a man in the village can’t turn out a brace of arrows in the space of an hour, though.”

Stigander gave a half-smile to his old friend. “Lundholm is one of the more industrious of our freehold allies. They’ll put us to work, but we’ll get what we need. I’m just glad the Weaving spared you.”

The Elder snorted. “You’re welcome.”

Einarr jogged a half-step to come up even with the elder. “Beg pardon?”

After a sidelong look, the old man answered. “Your grandfather tried very hard to make this a proper part of his kingdom – not far short of open warfare, really. Only I was too cussed stubborn to go along with it, and he didn’t want to destroy us and rebuild.”

“You knew my grandfather, then?”

Now the Elder laughed. “Of course I did! How young do you think I am?”

While Einarr stammered, Stigander held up his hands in front of him for peace. “Come now, Vilding. He was only a boy when the Weaver came.”

Elder Vilding snorted again. “Not much more than a boy now.”

Before he could finish the insult, they arrived in a large green surrounding a single large oak tree. “Here we are. Our Herb-witch should be along shortly, and then there are many matters to discuss. For example, what changed?”

Stigander looked Elder Vilding straight in the eye. “That, sir, is simple. My son is the Cursebreaker.”

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8.4 – Setting Sail

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

The Eikthyrnir was not due to leave port for several more days. Einarr chafed at the delay, but preferred not to take his chances on searching out another boat. Especially given that Captain Kormund only brought them on board out of half-remembered friendship for Stigander. Einarr was well aware of how tenuous that made their position on board, and so advised his companions to work twice as hard as they had before. Accusations of favoritism were pure poison on the open sea, and Einarr had no desire to bring that down on his head.

Finally, though, the day dawned when the Eikthyrnir was scheduled to leave port. The weather was clear and cool, as Einarr had come to expect from this island, and his new shipmates did not seem to begrudge him their Captain’s regard. If anything, they seemed to pity him for it. But if there was one thing Einarr was growing used to, it was meeting unreasonably high expectations. If the Captain expected him to live up to his memories of Stigander, well, at least he wasn’t trying to steal from Wotan or escape the forgotten island.

The ship slipped out of the harbor as silently as she had entered it. Had Einarr not been on an oar, he might not have believed they were rowing out, she moved so swiftly and silently. There was barely a ripple as the oars dipped in and out of the sea, and while he could hear the waves lapping at the sides of the Eikthyrnir, it was rather akin to hearing them lap against a sandy shore. Even more than most raiders she was built for speed and for stealth, and Einarr soon discovered that everyone from the lowest deckhand to Hraerek, the ship’s Mate, were quick to boast of it.

Unlike the Vidofnir, there were no post-sailing rituals among the Eikthyrnings. It felt odd to leave port without hearing the Lay of Raen, but neither Eydri nor her senior Singer on board was familiar with it. He shrugged, and that first night out on the water he took some time in his watch to recite the lay to himself. He’d heard it often enough, after all: he’d had it memorized by the time he was 14.

Four days out of port, before they had yet turned north to head towards Kjell but well outside the territory claimed by the Coneheads, Einarr happened to glance toward the stern during supper.

A dromon sat on the horizon, plain as the nose on his face. For an hour, and then two, Einarr watched and waited. The ship seemed, if anything, to be gaining on them. He pursed his lips, thinking. “Excuse me,” he muttered to the men he was eating with.

The men patrolling on watch seemed unconcerned, though, when he pointed the dromon out to them.

“I see him. Nothing to fear,” said Vari, a tall, slender man who nonetheless looked like he would be a terror with the blades at his belt. “We’ve outrun dromon before.”

Einarr looked back out at the dromon, then again at Vari from the corner of his eye. That may be so, but something about this gave him a bad feeling. But, he swallowed his protest and nodded. He was never likely to become anything other than ‘new’ on this ship. Still, he kept his eyes astern.

His turn for watch came around. He gave it half a candle-mark, or so, before he reported the vessel. He definitely thought it was gaining on them.

“Mate Hraerek, I’ve something to report.”

“The dromon off our stern?”


“Good work. Spotted it hours ago.”

A swell of relief washed over Einarr. “Does it look like it’s gaining to you, sir?”

“Unlikely. I expect it will turn aside eventually. It has no proof we’re raiders, after all.”

“If it’s a Valkyrie ship, that might not matter.”

“What do you mean?”

“Last spring, in the waters between Kjell and Apalvik, the Vidofnir was attacked by one of their hunting ships – and I can tell you from experience that there’s nothing to raid in those waters.”

The Mate furrowed his brow. “Apalvik? Why in the world were you headed there?”

Einarr snorted. “We weren’t, until we had a hold full of Valkyrian treasure to sell.”

That got a laugh out of the man, at least. “Keep an eye on it if it makes you feel better. I assure you, you won’t be the only one. But I wager it will turn aside soon enough. There’s not a lot between Eskiborg and Kjell, either, and our business in Eskiborg was peaceful.”

“Thank you, sir.” While not exactly reassuring, at least the Mate knew about it. He returned to his watch, all the while keeping one eye on the mysterious dromon to their south.

Matters continued like that for another day, and another, during which Einarr became increasingly sure that not only was the ship gaining, it was tailing them. He could see, now, the all-too-familiar wing-and-spear of the Order of the Valkyrie when the wind was right. But if he could, so could the Mate and so could the Captain.

On the seventh day out of port, Captain Kormund called on the skills of Hrug.

“All right, fortune teller. We’re far off the normal trade routes by now, and well out of anything the Coneheads even try to claim. Divine for me who mans that ship and why they follow us.”

Hrug made an exaggerated bow, even going so far as to flourish with his stump. The request had sounded more than a little pompous, although at this point he had come to expect that from this captain. Then the mute looked at Einarr and raised an eyebrow.

“Of course I’ll help.”

“What, you’re a fortune-teller to?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then how is it he asks you for help?”

“Oh, I’ve received the same training. At the same time, even. But he’s better at it. I’m just a Cursebreaker.”

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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

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Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

7.31 – The Bjorn

Einarr and Naudrek came to the water’s edge at an area of the docks that Einarr doubted he’d have found on his own, it was so far removed from the main road. Naudrek stopped, briefly, when they heard their footfalls echoing over water instead of ground and pointed out towards the sea.

“There, at the far end of the pier.” Then they were both running again, sure that their quarry had arrived ahead of them. Noises of startlement came from several of the ships as they passed, reacting to the sudden clamor but not chasing after its source. Einarr paid them no mind: they were ship lookouts, nothing more. He’d have been more surprised if they had begun to follow him.

Before long he could make out the shape of the ship floating at the end of the pier, an inky black against the indigo night. They picked up the pace.

Naudrek slowed once they could see the lamps burning underneath the Captain’s awning and announced himself to the lookout. He was waved through, but waited just on board.

Einarr stepped up into the light of the lookout’s lamp. “Einarr, son of Stigander, of the longship Vidofnir, hunting the Muspel Shroud. Permission to come aboard?”

“And why, praytell, does that require you to board the Bjorn?”

“He has reason to believe,” Naudrek interrupted. “That the artifact intends to secret itself aboard this ship.”

“This is credible?”

Einarr tried not to roll his eyes. He understood the guard’s suspicion, mentally, but his honor still rankled.

Naudrek nodded solemnly. “And from what I’ve heard, letting that thing off this island is a bad idea.”

The guard pursed his lips, then finally nodded. “Fine. But he’s under your care. If this scrawny fellow causes any trouble…”

“I swear to you on my honor as the blood of Raen of Breidelstein, my grandfather, I seek only the Shroud, to capture or destroy it.”

“Breidelstein? No ship’s come out of there in -”

“More than twenty years? Aye.”

“…I see.” Only slightly less reluctantly, the lookout stepped aside to allow Einarr to board.

“Have you lamps we can use?” He asked when both feet were on deck. It should, he thought, have been a reasonable request, but the lookout gave him a look that could have iced over a wave.

Einarr shrugged. “We need light to search by, still. I’ve a trick I learned from the elves, but you might not like it any better.”

The lookout snorted and turned his attention back to the pier. With a shrug, Einarr pulled a stick of charcoal, wrapped in a leaf, from his coin pouch and unwrapped one end. Evidently being “scrawny” was more of a mark against him than Naudrek’s word could counter.

“Give me just a moment, would you? This will make the ship easier to search, if I can do it without accidentally blinding us.” Calmly, Einarr bent over to draw a large ᛊ – the sun rune – on the deck of the ship.

“What are you…?”

“I’ve been learning from the elves for months now. Picked up a thing or two.” Einarr smiled vaguely at the deck as he straightened. He had intentionally drawn the three-line version, since the lighting was not such to allow him to check his inscription. With a nod of satisfaction, he willed the rune into life.

The deck of the Bjorn burst into bright light, which quickly faded to a dim glow. Cries of surprise echoed around the deck.

“Sorry,” Einarr said. “I’m not very good, I’m afraid.”

You,” Naudrek demanded, incredulous. “You know magic?”

“Elder Melja would dispute that.”

“I never would have taken you for a sorceror.” Naudrek seemed suddenly wary of him, in spite of everything.

Einarr sighed. “I’m not. I’m a Cursebreaker. It became very plain to me that it was learn the Runes or die. So I’m learning the runes, and hoping it doesn’t kill me.”

“…Ah.” He didn’t seem convinced, but did not force the issue. At least, not yet.

With a nod from his companion, the two set to searching. Naudrek was very shortly thereafter interrupted by a man Einarr assumed was either the Captain or the Mate who came out from under the awning to investigate why, exactly, the ship was glowing. If anything, the explanation made the man less happy about it, but Einarr’s hunt was not interrupted.

It was nowhere above deck – not even, thank goodness, under the Captain’s awning. Einarr worried that it would be under the deck boards: he doubted he would be able to get the Captain to agree to let him search there. Then the lapping of water against the klinks caught his attention. It sounded… different than he was used to. Softer.

Einarr dashed to the seaward side of the ship and looked down towards the water. A grin spread slowly across his face. There, reflected in the surface of the water, he could see a long patch of red against the hull.

“There you are,” he muttered, and Sinmora rasped from her sheath. He focused his will and his determination: almost immediately, he felt the sword begin to vibrate. It had devoured the magic of the wards, before, in spite of hundreds of years of reinforcement. It should at least be able to knock out the artifact.

As the sword’s vibrations grew stronger in Einarr’s hands, the Shroud peeled itself from the side of the ship in what looked an awful lot like alarm to Einarr. His grin turned predatory.

“I’ve found it,” he called across the deck to his new ally. Naudrek’s answering smile was cold as he, too, drew his sword and came to stand by Einarr’s side. Slowly, as though acknowledging that it had been found out, the Shroud floated up to hover in front of the two warriors over the water.

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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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7.17 – Practical Magic

Einarr’s head swam, although he could feel the hard ground beneath it. The crackle of a nearby campfire was unmistakeable. The last thing he remembered was etching an ᚱ into some birch bark to keep for later use. What… happened? Where am I?

He blinked, and at first all he saw was a brownish blur. When he opened his eyes again, though, his vision was clear. That brown blur was the glow of firelight on the branches of an ash, and beyond that the starry field of night. Einarr groaned.

“Awake, are you?” The creaking voice of an old woman broke the stillness. “I’d begun to wonder if your foolishness had actually killed you.”

With another groan, Einarr pushed himself up on his elbows and squinted at the source of the voice. “What do you mean?”

The woman who sat across the fire from him in a colorless cloak appeared ancient – older, even, than the oldest of the Matrons on Breidhaugr. Old enough that Einarr was surprised to see her out in the forest at all.

“What I mean,” the crone said. “Is that the village alfs never should have let you out of their sight. What were you thinking, carving all those runestones?”

Einarr blinked at her, a little confused. “You mean those chips? I thought they’d be useful…”

“Not much use if you’ve so much of your life tied up in them they kill you. You’re a novice, and a human to boot. There’s no way your soul could support more than a handful.”

Einarr sat all the way up. For just a campfire, the light seemed awfully bright to his eyes right then. “What do you mean?”

The old woman with her drawn features snorted. “Wise enough to listen to your elders, at any rate. Did your alfr master tell you, properly, what the limits of rune magic are?”

“The Runemaster requires time, primarily. Time to inscribe the proper runes for his purpose.”

The crone nodded. “That’s right, so far as it goes. He didn’t mention runestones?”

Einarr shook his head. “I’ve only a few months with them. I only really wanted to learn how to read them. Probably he decided there wasn’t time to teach me.”

She snorted again. “Not quite, I suspect. Runestones are an advanced technique. Not because they’re particularly difficult: any fool can inscribe a rune and make it last. But every one you make ties up a portion of your life energy. With the number you had on you, you’re lucky I found you.”

“I… Yes. Thank you, for that. How long was I out?”

“It’s been a day and a half since I destroyed them for you. As for how long you’d been out before that, I really couldn’t say.”

Einarr blanched. “More than a day… since you destroyed them?”

“That’s right – and a good thing you put them on wood, too. If you’d been fool enough to carve them in stone, this old woman wouldn’t have been able to break them. That’s the only way to reclaim the bits of your spirit, after all.”

“I see.” He did, actually: his eyes finally felt like they were back to normal. “How do you know so much?”

The crone cackled. “You’re not the first over-extended student of the runes this old Singer has seen. Not on this island.”

“Wait, hold on. You’re a Singer?”

“I was, in my youth. Voice is gone, now, but it didn’t take my mind with it.” She laughed again.

Einarr nodded slowly, considering. “You have my thanks for the rescue. Tell me, did you move me from where I was found?”

“You give these old bones a good deal of credit, young man. We are not far off the path where I found you, in a little clearing not many others know. In the morning, you are free to go about your business – although if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get back to that village and bow your neck to Elder Melja. Tell him Geiti sent you scampering back, and if he doesn’t want to lose more students he should stop hiding ‘dangerous’ information.”

Einarr couldn’t keep a small smile off of his face. “I’ll be sure to tell him that when I return. But I can’t go back immediately.”

The crone resettled herself on the ground, leaning forward a bit with interest. “And what, then, has a young novice wandering about like a toddler just finding his feet?”

I think I deserved that one? “The Shroud has been freed.”

“Good gods, man, what are you doing out here? Get back to the village, let the Runemasters handle it.”

“The Runemasters can’t handle it if they can’t find it. I’m trying to make sure they know where to look.”

“And why, praytell, did they let a novice take on that job?”

He sighed. “Forgive me, grandmother Geiti. I’m afraid I haven’t properly introduced myself. I am Einarr, only son of Stigander, the son of Raen of Breidlestein. Wandering prince, veteran raider, no meagre hunter, and the named Cursebreaker besides.”

“Well well well. Now I have even more questions. But, they will wait. It is late, and you are still recovering your strength. Sleep now, and we will speak more in the morning.”

And so Einarr laid his head back down on the bare earth to stare at the stars and the light flickering on the branches above. Sleep eluded him, and he was uncertain if that was because his life energy was returning to him – he felt stronger almost by the minute – or if it was because even here he could not escape his Calling. Eventually, though, he must have dropped off, because when next he opened his eyes the sky was the pale blue of early morning. The smell of berried porridge clung to the morning air. When he sat up, the ancient Singer offered him a toothless smile and a wooden bowl.

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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

2.18 – A Father’s Honor

“If your heart does not remain with the Weaver and the Wolf, swear again before me as you once did before my father Raen.”

A number of grim faces around the hall met Stigander’s request, but no-one protested. Stigander would have been well within his rights to have them put to death, or trial by sword. Within his rights, but foolish: such a blood-letting would have taken generations to return from.

Stigander stood on the dias, flanked by Einarr and Bardr, with Gorgny standing watch just below. Man after man stepped forward and knelt before him, forswearing any allegiance to Ulfr and pledging allegiance to Stigander or his line. No few Singers also presented themselves. Before accepting and offering his counter-pledge, Stigander would look to Gorgny for his affirmation of their sincerity.

Meanwhile, the Vidofnings stood guard around the edges of the hall, looking as uncomfortable and impatient as Stigander felt. That this was necessary at all was a travesty, caused by a single ill-advised dalliance in his father’s youth: never in his life had Stigander been more glad of his policy to never bed a woman not his wife.

At least I won’t have to worry about Einarr. He found his mind wandering as the line moved on – never far, of course, in the seemingly endless stream of pledges and counter-pledges.

After what felt like an eternity of this those gathered in the hall once again stood assembled to either side. Stigander’s gaze slid across the entirety off the hall, and as his eyes lit on each familiar face he smiled a little more openly. “It’s good to be home,” he said, his voice unexpectedly hoarse.

“Tomorrow, there will be work to be done. Tonight, though, let us feast!”

A cheer rose up across the hall, and Stigander stepped down to stand in front of his father’s right-hand man. “Where is Father?”

The scene shifted. Last night’s feast had been one of the wildest Stigander could remember, before or after the Vidofnir had become a vagabond. He thought he had drank too much, although what he felt was more akin to the idea of a hangover than the actual thing. And the next task of the day was to be an unpleasant one, one he’d hoped to avoid.

“When the Weaving unravelled, it came undone all at once,” Gorgny explained. “The Weaver realized what had happened at the same time as all the rest of us, and we caught them before they could escape. They await your judgement.”

Stigander gave a heavy sigh. “Best be on with it.”

Gorgny bowed, and then an unfamiliar-looking woman and appeared before him with a startlingly familiar-looking man, shackled and weighed down with chains, the sole purpose of which seemed to be the weight. The woman, a withered old crone whose long white hair had gone thin and who had lost more than a few of her teeth, stood defiant, but her son was on his knees and would not look up at him. We could almost be twins… The newly resworn jarls formed a circle around them in the center of the room: the Thing would judge.

I suppose she must have been pretty enough in her youth, or she’d never have caught Father’s eye. Stigander met her eyes with a cold stare. To punish her was easy: it would take years for father’s mind to recover, even if his body seemed hale. Gorgny, at least, thought Raen’s mind was still whole enough to mend. Ulfr, though…

Stigander rose, and went to join the circle of leaders surrounding the usurpers. “Weavess Urdr. You stand accused before the Thing of high treason, treason against your husband, practicing the black arts, murder by means of magic and poison, and of practicing the torturer’s arts. Among your accusers, your victims, are members of this Thing. Have you any defense?”

“You dare to try me here, with my accusers among the judges?” The woman may have been a crone, but her voice was as strong as a woman thirty years her junior, and she stood straight and proud.

“You would rather rot in the dungeon until I can call on the thanes and jarls of other lands? Winter approaches: I should think in your shoes I should prefer swift judgement to spending the winter in the dungeon, wondering every day if you might simply have been forgotten. Cold, damp, dark, drafty, and worse than it was before the Weaving forced me into exile.”

Her only response was to meet his hard stare with one of her own.

Stigander gave her a moment. He did not think her neck would bend, and it soon became plain it would not. “Are there any present who will stand in her defense?”

Ulfr moved as though to stand. He planted one foot on the floor, but then placed it back again.

“Even your own son will not stand to defend your actions. Can there be any more damning statement?”

Still Urdr stared at him, but Stigander would not be cowed. “If you will not defend yourself, so be it. The penalty for any one of these crimes is death, and so I put the question before this Thing. Did this woman conspire to overthrow the rightful Thane of Breidelsteinn?”

Not a single Jarl said nay.

“In the overthrow of the thane Raen, by whom she bore a son, did she practice the black art of curse-weaving?”

Once again each man in the circle answered aye.

“Was the rightful Thane, a man she has called her husband, tortured by her hand?”

Some few did not verbally agree to this one, but still there were no nays.

“So be it. Based on the determination of this Thing, who have witnessed the actions of the accused, the weavess Urdr is guilty. You shall be stripped of all you possess and hung in a cage over the sea. You shall be afforded neither food nor fresh water, and even the salt spray shall not reach you. If in four days you yet live, your cage shall be recovered and you shall be burned at the stake.”

He worried for a moment that the punishment would be too harsh, but then the child-like babbling of his father returned to him. This was just.

“Ulfr, son of Urdr. It can be denied by no-one here that you were a willing co-conspirator in your mother’s plan. By strict justice, you should meet her same fate.”

“I cannot deny this.” Even the man’s voice sounded like Stigander’s.


Ulfr gave no answer, merely continued to stare at the rug beneath his knees.

“If you had come on your own, we could have been brothers.”

“But I could not have come on my own. From the time I was a babe, Mother has spoken of our father as her husband, and alternately doted on his memory and railed against his cruel absence. She promised me the thanedom was rightfully mine… and with the credulity of a child I believed her. The wrong we have done here only became clear to me after we had seized this land and it began to fall apart, and I believed there was naught I could do but try to hold everything together. I will submit to exposure in the cage.”

Justice must be served, but to execute Ulfr would make him a kinslayer. There had to be a better way. “But will you submit to exile, if the Thing agrees?”

Only now did Ulfr look up at Stigander. It was like looking into a mirror. The sound of silver bells drowned out the mirror’s response.

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2.17 – Vision of Home

Stigander caught the sound of silver bells in the wind and steeled himself. The last trial had tried to make him choose between his birthright and his son’s future, as though the two could be separated. That had been bad enough, but surely the trials ahead would be just as wrenching. He took a step forward on the path…

…And found he now stood on a different mountain path, on an island he had not seen in more than a decade. I’m… home?

He blinked, hardly believing what his eyes were showing him. The road beneath his feet, laboriously cut into the granite face, switchbacked above and below. Behind him marched the Vidofnings, savage jubilation painting each and every face. Even Einarr’s, which left a twinge of heartsickness behind. Far below, the Vidofnir bobbed in the water alongside a ship with an unfamiliar ramshead on the prow – Einarr’s ship, it had to be.

The men behind him furrowed their brows. They’re waiting on me. He stepped forward again even as he turned his head to look up the rock face. There, rising above, were the unmistakable grey stone walls of Breidelsteinn. I’m home.

His pace quickened. The Usurper must have already lost, or there would be warriors on the road, and arrows would rain on their heads. Instead, all was peaceful. It was time to reclaim the honor stolen from his father.

As they marched, he heard the strains of the Lay of Raen carry up the road and the corner of his mouth quirked in a smile. That was some impressive breath control Reki had, if she was willing to sing while they marched. At least, he thought it was Reki.

At the top of the switchbacks Stigander stopped again. The gates stood open wide. In the center of the passage, his father’s first liege-man knelt before him. Clustered in the shadows behind, the Jarls and Captains of Breidelsteinn prostrated themselves. No. Not like this. These men were my friends.

But now they were his subjects. Even if his father were still fit to rule, which Stigander thought unlikely, the Clan would never accept him at its head again. They might not accept him, for that matter. Stigander closed his eyes and swallowed hard on the melancholy that threatened to overtake him. Done is done. You knew this would be part of the price.

When he opened his eyes again they were hard. He had hesitated too long already, when now was the time for decisiveness. Three firm steps forward brought him to just ahead of where the man knelt. “Gorgny Agnarsson, do you swear on the names of your father and your grandfather that the Weaver’s sorcery no longer holds you?”

“In the names of Agnar and Hagrlaug, I swear my mind is no longer clouded by sorcery, and may my heart burst if I lie.” Shame practically dripped from the man’s voice.

Stigander nodded, accepting the attestation. Uncle Gorgny had always been an honest man. “Then swear to me as you once swore to my father.”

“My lord prince, Lord Raen yet lives, and though all the clan may forsake him, I will not.”

Stigander snorted, but his face softened a little. “You realize under the circumstances that could mean your death?”

“I do, and I will make any oath you ask of me – except that one, so long as my lord Raen still lives and breathes.”

“Rise, then.” Stigander suppressed a sigh. If he had wanted to prove the man wasn’t a traitor, this managed it nearly as well. “How is Father?”

“Battered but not broken. Never broken.”

“Good.” He smiled at the man he had always thought of as an uncle and clapped him on the shoulder. Stigander had not dared hope that his father would survive this. It would be good for Einarr to meet his grandfather again.

Stigander turned his father’s liege-man and stepped over the threshold. “What of the rest of them?”

“The ones you see? Penitents all. It’s as though we all woke from a bad dream not long ago. The rest are shackled and awaiting justice.”

He nodded now. “I will take the oaths of the penitents in the main hall.”

“Yes, my lord prince.”

His father’s hall had changed under the influence of the Usurper and the Weaver. Raen had made it larger than it had to be so everyone would be welcome, and they were. The lively good cheer he remembered had fled over the intervening years, tossed out with the rugs and candelabrum that were nowhere to be seen on his return. His brother had left it empty, cold, and dark.

Stigander set his mouth in a hard line. Restoring the hall would be easy, compared to the rest of what he had to do. He slowed for the last few steps up on to the dias, feeling their weight.

The seat of the Thane stood before him, polished and painted wood that had never before this moment intimidated him. Stigander blew a breath through his moustache. Rather than sit, he turned to face the men now filling the hall behind him and motioned at a few of them to join him: Gorgny, Bardr, Einarr. As Gorgny stepped into place beside him, he caught the man’s eye. “Uncle, where is Father?”

“Resting, under the care of an herb-witch.”

Stigander winced a little. “Urdr was quite cruel, then.” When Gorgny nodded, he shifted his attention to the hall.

“People of Breidelsteinn,” he began, his voice filling the hall. “It has taken long years, but at last Urdr’s Weaving has been unraveled – by none other than my own son Einarr.”

He allowed a minute for the cheering to die down before he continued. “I do not believe that any of you who stand before me were in their right mind during the Usurper’s reign… but much can change as the years fall away. My friends, I believe that you are all still my friends, and I would ask you to swear to this. If your heart does not remain with the Weaver and the Wolf, swear again before me as you once did before my father Raen.”

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2.16 – Desperate Battle

One down, five to go… Four. Einarr stared through the gap in the circle where his fallen opponent had been and set his jaw. A cry of shock from the other side of Arring said his partner had felled another, but already more Valkyries rushed towards their circle. In only a moment, the two fallen would be replaced by four more. A hollow space opened up in his belly: if there were this many men to deal with the two of them, the fight was going badly all over.

Four men became eight. Einarr could spare no thought for the shallow cuts that got through his guard or for the fate of his fellows. Three times his boot nearly crushed Bardr’s nose as he dodged a blow. Three times he moved in time, but on the third he stumbled.

“Einarr!” Arring lunged, ignoring for a moment the flock of vultures trying to peck out their eyes. Einarr’s shoulder slammed into his crewmate’s back, but the man didn’t budge.

“Thanks,” he grunted. Einarr took the opportunity to lash out with a boot toward one of the Valkyries within range. He heard the satisfying snap when foot hit nose, and the sailor cursed even as blood began to flow down his face.

Such a minor thing was not enough to knock the fight out of a Valkyrie, of course. Einarr launched himself off Arring’s back with a roar. Sinmora whistled as the blade drove for the man’s skull.

He, too, had allies, though. A saber flashed, and instead of the sound of steel biting flesh it was steel striking steel that rang out.

Einarr snarled, ripping his blade back to cut thrice at the three men ahead of him. Blood bloomed on their tunics. Two of them turned a sickly green and dropped to their knees, clutching their stomachs as though to hold in their innards. The third snarled back.

Moist heat gushed from Einarr’s calf. Pain would come later. That was a deep one, but not as deep as the one the Valkyrie got in return. If he lived, he would never father another child.

Einarr’s lungs burned. Even under the full strength of Reki’s song fatigue slowed his arms and fear clutched at his throat. This was like no other battle he had seen. It seemed as though there were no end to the Valkyries, even though their hunting parties were never more than two ships together. Their assailants had ebbed, if only for a moment. He inhaled deeply, smelling sour bile and the iron tang of blood.

Arring’s voice rang out. “Behind you!”

Einarr turned. A javelin – not a crossbow bolt, a javelin – hurtled for his breast. Ah, so that’s why I didn’t feel anything. There was no time to dodge. There was no time to bring his shield or sword to bear. The fates had decreed that this moment was his time.

Einarr lowered his eyelids, accepting his fate. In the moment before they closed, Arring’s sturdy figure seemed to fly into the path of the javelin.

Einarr’s eyes flew open again when he saw what was happening. He screamed in denial.

The javelin found the weak point in Arring’s mail. Blood spurted from his back even as Einarr dashed forward to catch his crewmate… his friend. The world went red.

The next thing Einarr was aware of, he stood alone in a pile of corpses. At his feet lay Bardr and Arring, both gone. A few other lone figures remained of the Vidofnir’s crew, each surrounded by a ring mound of bodies. Jorir. Reki. Erik. One or two others… Father.

He strode to where the others gathered around Stigander, the wound in his leg somehow vanished. “Father.”

“Einarr.” The words were calm and level, but both knew the other’s heart at this moment.

“How many are left?”

“Just those you see here.”

Einarr nodded, looking down at his blood-stained boots. “Where will you take us now?”

Stigander’s voice was tired when he finally answered. “I don’t know.”

“You’re not giving up?” He lifted his head to meet his father’s gaze with a challenge.

Stigander shook his head.


“I’ll be damned if I know how we’re supposed to win back Raenshold with just the few of us, though. And this just cost us everything we’ve earned towards winning the hand of your bride.”

“It was always going to be a matter of wits, Father. Our birthright was stolen from us by guile, and by guile it shall be won.”

“We will still require force of arms to back up our wits, son. After this, we’ll be lucky to find enough men to crew our ship, let alone turn our cause from doom.”

“We’ll find a way. If for no other reason, Father, than the battle here today.”

Now his father looked alarmed, but Einarr did not give him the chance to interrupt.

“The Order of the Valkyrie has wronged the sons of Raen and the men of Breidelsteinn this day – grievously. And they will pay, Father.”

“They already have, Einarr. Look around you. We were outnumbered, and yet it is we who yet live.”

“Are you really all right with that, Father?”

“Even our entire clan does not have the resources to go after the Order of the Valkyrie. Others have tried, and wiped themselves from the map in the process.”

“Then we shall gather other clans to our cause.”

“You realize they’ve an agreement with the Empire, right?”

“So be it. The Vidofnir is my home, and her crew my family. I will not allow this to stand.” He heard the coldness in his own voice as the words left his mouth. He had never experienced rage as a cold thing before, but in this moment it was right. The Order of the Valkyries, and by extension the Empire, would not rest until every Clan was wiped out – their hunters today showed that well enough. If defending his kin meant taking the battle to them, then so be it.

“I swear before all of you, by steel and by stone, by the one bound beneath a tree and she who stirs the winds, that our kin shall be avenged, even if it takes my whole life to do it.”

He stood there, staring, for a long moment before he realized that his father was frozen rather than speechless. The sound of silver bells drifted to his ears on the wind from out of nowhere.

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2.4 – The Song of Raen

The sun touched the water’s edge and the sky took on the color of red gold. The tide would begin to ebb soon, but the crew of the Vidofnir had not yet taken up oars and her sail was still furled. Fifteen years ago, they had fled their homes, and for fifteen years the start of every voyage was marked the same way. Stigander stood in the stern, his feet set wide and his arms crossed as he looked out over his men. Einarr joined him.

Reki stood in the prow of the boat, her cloak thrown open and her head exposed. Her skin washed amber in the light of sunset, and her straight white hair looked as though it were made of spun gold. How her previous crew thought she could be bad luck, Einarr could not understand. What clearer portent of wealth ahead could there be? She opened her mouth, and in low dulcet tones began the recitation they all awaited.

Leafy rug lies under
Lee of rock ridge, the
Free-hearted Raen’s hold
High built, its vigil born
To guard men above gold.
Grant plenty, pious king,
But forget not folly
Of fate-dabbler’s design.

It was his grandfather’s story, the founding of Raenshold well-nigh seventy years ago. Before Raen came to power theirs had been a weak clan, really not much more than a scattering of freeholds across the Breidelsteinn archipelago. Over the course of a decade, Grandfather had transformed Breidelsteinn from the laughingstock of the seas to one of its foremost powers. He had been only forty when he made Stigander the captain of their fleet and settled in to complete the fortress at Raenshold and administer their lands.

The time drew near. A whisper rippled through the crew, no louder than the lapping of water on the hull, as Reki continued to recite. Hands moved to oars, but they did not yet push off. The cue had not yet come.

Raen’s folly, a fair lass
Flax-haired, by eye-gleams held:
Urdr did he woo, under
Umber moon she swooned.
No troth spoke though one she
Took: the ring-breaker Raen
She would wed. When sea-steed
Stole Raen, Urdr did remain.

A low grinding of sand against the hull marked the moment the Vidofnir pushed off the kjelling shores.

Unwisely wooed, Urdr
Bore Ulfr, boy-child of
Greyed eyes, guileful blade.
Threads Urdr traced, fiber spun
While wolf’s fangs he forg’d.
To seek redress on swan’s road
Their uncut thread binds all.

Einarr had been six when his half-uncle and the woman his grandfather had set aside appeared at Raenshold, and had only heard second-hand what happened. His maternal grandparents had requested he come for the summer, and so as they sailed for the summer’s hunt on the waves, Father had left Mamma and him at their freehold. When they all returned late that fall, it was like a black haze hovered over the island. The Vidofnir sailed near enough to port that Einarr could see men dangling like fruit from the hanging tree.

That was when they had been attacked by every longship already in port. Einarr remembered the look on his father’s face when the man had been forced to choose between leading an assault against the force had taken their home and protecting his wife and son. Though it had only lasted for a moment, that was the face of a man in agony.

His father wore that same look now, as he did every time they reached this point of the song and the oars dipped into the water. The Vidofnir had wintered that year at Mamma’s freehold, and that was where Einarr lived until he was old enough to sail with Father. By then, they’d pieced together what happened.

Ulfr did usurp, and Urdr does
Under cursèd thrall snarl
Mountain’s men, and entomb’d
Raen maltreats. Raven-wine
By Art bound, and by Art’s touch
Alone undone: hie home,
Raen’s sons, soon your birthright
Save, and cut the woven chain.

Those who did not row knocked their blades against their shields. Those who did opened their mouths and let loose with the ululating black song – the cry of a warrior who will die for their cause. Einarr closed his eyes and joined them, ignoring for the moment that he was the one person aboard who was not allowed to do so. Stigander was unlikely to produce a second heir now.

As the black song died down, Einarr opened his eyes again and glanced sidelong at his father. The look of anguish from the story was already fading into the sorrowful, grim determination that had become so familiar. With a pang, he realized that this was the first time since he’d come aboard that it had not been one of his stepmothers up there. He leaned over to whisper in Stigander’s ear “You alright?”

His father’s only response was a curt nod, followed by a wan smile before he strode forward toward the middle of the Vidofnir. Einarr did not miss that Bardr thrust a skin at his father, nor the way Stigander drank from it. He sighed: perhaps later he would join his father under his awning and drink until the dawn with him. It would be better for both of them than the melancholy solitude that threatened.

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